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A User's Guide to The Cosmos, God and Locations for the Philosophical - by Roland Leach

How to be a Philosopher 

A general disbelief in most things from a young age helps. Have you always wondered why some people, belief systems and countries seem to put across the idea they are always right? Questioning parents and teachers is a good first move to set you on your path. From this you soon learn about punishment and know that free thought comes at a price. Being made to be on the outside of things helps you to see the world from a different angle. This is the first Law of Philosophy: seeing things from a point that is not safe or comfortable. Of course, there are games you soon learn to combat the forces of 'right' - just make sure that you remember they are games. Never believe in your own lies.

In the Beginning

Once in a past age of certainty there was a very clear beginning.

Bishop Ussher worked meticulously through the Bible and came up with 8 p.m, 22 October, 4004 BC. as the day the earth, and therefore the universe, was created. As you can imagine this brought much relief and there was rejoicing all round. This was in 1656.

Such certainty deserves acclaim. You can imagine the portly bishop went home none too pleased with himself having solved this problem. Drank warm wine in front of the fire before falling into a peaceful sleep. Everyone (Christians anyway) went off to sleep secure in the belief that God had placed the Earth at the centre of his creation with humans (man they would have called it) being the sole reason for all the effort. It was reassuring to know that the world was a relatively small place and hadn't been around all that long. It made you feel kind of important.

The estimated age of the universe is now 15 billion years and it is getting older every year. If the age of the universe was compared with a football match there would be no one on the field till quarter time when a load of one-celled amoeba oozed out. Not very good at kicking the pill they did have the ability of taking a hard bump and simply split in half if the going got too tough. Captains often asked for head counts. The first primeval fish (impressive skills on wet days) would appear just before half-time, with the first reptiles appearing during the break to carry out the oranges or their ancestral citric equivalent. Dinosaurs didn't get their chance till the ten minute mark in the third quarter, but being susceptible to knee injuries (too top heavy) were stretchered off before the end of the premiership quarter. Meanwhile the human species were still dreaming themselves into being and finally in the form of those hirsute, bent-over, knuckles trailing on the ground ancestors that emerged 4 million years ago (some things never change), they get a run off the bench in the final two seconds of the match.

Some people might think they sure have made their presence felt despite obviously being on the wrong side of the coach.

But back to Ussher. At the time the universe was a small place simply because humans had no other way of seeing it differently. Those who did often got in trouble with Church authorities, and since the Church just about ran the State it really did mean trouble. Just ask Galileo Galilei.

Galileo

Galileo is remembered for inventing the telescope and proving that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, instead it revolved around the Sun. This was not strictly true as he stole the idea of the telescope from the Dutch though he improved on it. He also had the Polish astronomer, Copernicus, to thank for questioning the old belief in the centrality of the Earth (the old Ptolemaic model), though again he was the one to prove it.

This shift in taking the centrality away from the Earth had great ramifications for the Church. They were all powerful and what the Pope said was almost infallible. To question this central tenet involved questioning the very basic foundation of the Church and its beliefs. Anyone who dared to cross the orthodox Church Thinking found themselves visited by the Inquisition and its tortures. Galileo was no exception.

On the day they came for him Galileo could smell the burning flesh of that other heretic, Giordano Bruno. It stuck in his nostrils as he was delivered to the Inquisition. There is no way of bypassing what happened: the smell in his nostrils formed miraculously into fear, it was as solid as marble, cold as steel and it sat lodged inside of him, so that when they rattled the instruments of torture he forgot a whole life of arrogant postering, threatening to stand eye to eye with death and laugh, and cried out that he repented. None of it was true, he had misread the stars, the telescope was a trick.

This might be a little tough on the guy as he was sixty eight at the time and a devout Catholic!

They say it set back Science 100 years, nevertheless it did get out and the physical laws of Science came to dominate in the subsequent centuries. The Church was still a little slow in officially recognising this. The Pope finally acknowledging officially that Galileo was right in the 1990's.

Galileo was one of the first to shake the certainty that had held the world together for two thousand years. Later Darwin, Marx, Neitzsche, Freud and Einstein would shake it from its hinges.

The Meaning of Life

It is a little disconcerting, even disappointing, that after thousands of years of intelligent and serious men (!) examining every available bit of evidence at their fingertips and beyond, to still come up with nothing substantial, nothing so that we could comfortably go home to bed and say 'Yes, well that's it then'. No nearer the truth than we were in the beginning.

What conclusions can be drawn from this?

The first is that it is no surprise that philosophy is not as popular as Law and Medicine as career choices. Secondly it is surprising that there is still a Church, especially the Catholics. How many times can you get it wrong without being dropped from the squad.

The problematic part is that many of the philosophers, scientists, theologians at the time thought they were right. Somebody, it seems, is changing the rules for those next up.

For those of you who do not wish to read the whole book but want the answer to the meaning of life, please turn to page 180.

 Teenagers

Every age group has a stereotype, but teenagers probably have to put up with the most. For a start older people will explain their behaviour as a 'phase that they are going through.' This tends to trivialise the experience of what they are feeling and doing, as it is set in terms that make it sound like it is only part way along a developmental spectrum, and presupposes that people progress and understand the world better as they grow older. The older generation certainly have more experience and knowledge, but their understanding is simply another version of the world. Growing older also means losing something, a way of seeing. They often see youth behaviour as 'lacking maturity' as if maturity is a wonderful place where everyone acts so thoughtfully.

However the very experience of what you feel and think as a teenager is as real as anything that comes after. To be in love at sixteen will be described as 'puppy love' or 'a phase that will pass'. This might be partly true but at the time it is as real and as poignant as anything you may ever experience. Even if you look back thinking it foolish it is more likely that it is how you have been conditioned by society to see it this way more than the experience at the time. 

Another interesting point is that teenagers are an invention of 1950's Western culture. Before that people of this age group were set into more prescribed roles and were moving into employment, and getting set to get married. In other cultures there is not the same 'teenage phenomena'.

Many claim the cultural phenomena of young people 'hanging out', having time and a more rebellious attitude was a result of the invention of the small transistor radio, capitalist affluence, the post war baby boom, and the rise of rock music and film.

Christ

Christ didn't sound like a bad bloke and was in many ways a rebel. He questioned the traditional assumptions of the day and preached love and turning the other cheek. This itself caused him to be unpopular with the authorities at the time as they believed that it was better to have a vengeful God who was clearly on your side and didn't mind smoting the unbelievers whenever he got a chance.

Preaching 'Love Your Enemies' was not high on the agenda when all the lads met to see who they could get the boot into next. The people on the hit list were always those 'different' to them so to have a subversive claiming to be the Son of God, preaching love and hanging out with whores, lepers and other undesirables made him the next one on the crucifixion list.

Christ's attitudes were just too radical for the time and it was because of this more than anything else that he was crucified. The punk kid who wanted to do it his way. 

Eventually the Christians became the dominant group, but they didn't quite follow the lead of their Messiah and it always surprises me that more people haven't complained, stood up and said 'This is not what he meant'. The culprits were the Church fathers who took over after Christ died. For a great example of inventing history that would have made Stalin feel inadequate, these Church fathers got rid of anything subversive, put women back in their place, and came up with terms like sin and the 'fall', concepts that Christ had absolutely nothing to do with.

If it ever worries you that we are always the 'good guys' look up the term Ideology that appears later.

What would you do?

You have got a whole weekend to do anything you want to. No questions ever asked, nobody will ever bust you, you are totally free. What would you do?

Everything

Everything you do matters and never disappears. Every action performed still exists, not to be judged, but to simply exist. Imagine our lives on video. You might need a whole video shop to hold the cassettes, but there they would be, sitting on the shelves down all the aisles; pick a tape and there would be your three hours of life, whether you were partying, bored in front of a maths problem, or sleeping. On the other hand, anything we do cannot possibly matter; it all means nothing. The two are equally true and co-exist without being in conflict.

These were the words of an old friend, Anna, who I still miss. She was going through a Buddhist period at that stage and often sat with her legs crossed in a lotus position. She also used to stand on her head when we went down the beach. I would be out surfing and it was comforting to see her legs poking straight up into the sky across an expanse of water.

Language 1 

Does our language shape our reality?

The Soweto Riots in South Africa were about language. The White Afrikaaners wanted to continue the practice of having the Afrikaans' language taught in schools instead of the Blacks' own language. 

The Blacks claimed that the Whites' language denigrated their people in the associations and meanings that were attached to words in reference to them. Blacks were seen as sub-human, subservient, dirty slovenly creatures with primitive ways. This was all done through the connotations of words that had evolved over time in that culture. In their own language they were constructed as noble, proud and capable of ruling their own destinies. 

The Afrikaans' language can be seen as constructing these people to see themselves in a negative way as this 'reality' was embedded in the language they had to use everyday. In turn, the people found they believed in the 'reality' of the language which then shaped their perceptions of self.

The history of colonalism is full of such stories. The Whites viewed indigenous peoples' language as little more than 'primitive babble', lacking the refinements of English, French, Spanish or Dutch. The first thing they did to indigenous people was to dispossess them of their language, making them use the oppressors' language and accepting their subjugation.

In the English language people have also been categorised by the way they use language and their accent. It was not till recently that the Cockney accent in England and the speech of the Negroes been accepted as having equal status. Many still regard people who speak with an Oxford accent as being necessarily more intelligent, cultured and superior. As we know speaking la-de-da doesn't mean you've got a brain in your head.

Mary Magdalene

All history is selective, it cannot be otherwise. Someone is going to tell the story and one viewpoint is going to be privileged over another. There can only be versions of reality, versions of history and truth that shift and sway. It is in the interests of those in power (ruling classes) to construct the past to suit their values; values that will perpetuate their privileges and rights.

One figure from the Bible most will know is Mary Magdalene. She is famous for being the whore who repents. This was not exactly the story but one invented by the church to serve its own interests. 

Let's hear the story from her viewpoint now:

Mary of Magdala

I was never a whore, just an epileptic with a head full of demons, seven to be exact

claimed the holy fathers later and assigned each a sin.

When he came into town, when he held my head in fisherman's hands for the briefest of moments I knew he was the man, and packed up my things, dressed in flowing violet letting my hair fall to my waist, and followed this man, this itinerant Christ through the desert to Jerusalem. 

You do not know me: I am one of those inventions of history, whose story has been stolen. Jealous because I was the first to see the risen Christ the apostle Peter refuted my vision, saying Would the Redeemer have spoken secretly to a woman without letting us know.

I should have seen it coming even then. Turned into the whore, the great sinner whose penitence and remorse was just what the church needed to make the body a temple of sin. 

He would have turned in his grave had he not risen already. A physical man who sweated and smiled, who all the women loved, but he chose his men badly, always ready to forgive and didn't see that the Rock that his church would be built was carved by masons whose thick fingers felt none of the life of the stone; intent on using heavy hammers when it needed the delicate point of knife.

After that day on Golgotha the men hid in houses, scared of the Roman soldiers but we, the women, had stood on the hill in the open and mourned the body of this man and the man himself, visited the grave though we could have been crucified ourselves for mourning a crucifixion in a public place. 

I am, we are, fictions of these men who came after: men who stripped the sacred from the body, who preached celibacy from the recluse of stone walls and raised altars, who would continue for two thousands years to celebrate half-lives.

There are more Marys in the Bible than goats in Sumeria. I am stray pieces of shipwreck that have washed ashore for others to make a narrative, while this thing I call self lies beneath gashes of reef.

I have been confused with Mary of Egypt, a penitent in the Syrian desert for forty seven years and the Samaritan woman in John who was converted by Christ at the Sychar well, and numerous other Marys, so I tell you now I was none of these and had left the city soon after that day at Christ's tomb, going aboard a small boat that soon became rudderless, till washing ashore at Marseilles.

I wished for the amnesia of mountains and acted the penitent in a cave, but never was fed by angels or performed miracles by raising mothers or babies from the dead, but sought the silence of solitude, looking over the hollow and curves of hills, the sky as pale as time on some days, before returning to the coast and finding Lazarus, that man who had seen the other side though never spoke of it, seeking the comforts of each other and settling down to a life near Aix. 

Reality 

I read somewhere a list of definitions of what reality might really be. There was the old parallel universes (Sliders style), one that said it was exactly as it appeared, one that stipulated that consciousness itself creates reality, but the one that was a scarier than hell (and hell was invented with the specific purpose of scaring people to be good) was the one where the universe operates on a non-human logic. It is impossible for us to know.

Time and Space

Imagine having a space craft that could travel almost at the speed of light (186,000 miles/second). You're sixteen years old and you leave your twin sister at home as you race out into space. Inside your spaceship you spend a year doing the sort of things one does in space; an absolutely ordinary year with all the same components (365 days of 24 hours) except for being in space and travelling extremely fast instead of comfortably home on Earth.

When you return home you are seventeen years, having aged one year because you have lived one year.

There to meet you is your twin sister looking decidedly matronly with her three children and second husband. She says, 'Just made it home in time for our forty-second birthday', before having a closer look at you and saying in a voice that suggested there has been sibling rivalry, 'What's the name of the moisturiser they gave you up there?'

For the reasons this happens (clue: it's not the moisturiser) see Einstein.

Immortality

The Western world is obsessed with immortality. They want our bodies to last forever. As if the body maketh the human. That's why we should exercise, stop smoking, drink less, take out superannuation and only take reasonable risks.

Locations for the Philosophical 1: Easter Island (Rapa Nui) 

You can go nowhere else in the world and be so far away from everything. Literally. Surrounded by thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean it is famous for its huge carved statues (Moais) that litter the coastline and its isolation.

This is a place to get perspective. Life suddenly comes into focus when the aircraft you are arriving in, touches down, just missing the ocean by a few metres and pulls up just in time before falling off the other end. The island is quite large, it's just that they built the airport on the narrowest part of it.

This is a philosophical question that deserves attention. Why do people make things so hard for themselves and others? There is the excitement factor and this always causes problems in people's lives, but there has to be more.

We could all smile and get along with others and there would be no conflict - no personal fights, no Crusades, no Palestines. So what is stopping us from agreeing to be agreeable? Most people would think this is impossible, conflict is inevitable, even on the smallest levels. There is jealousy, envy and a host of other human traits; things that might be called human nature. But can we blame so much on human nature? Hasn't this 'nature' been shaped and cultivated already by the social environments that we cannot escape? In essence, have not our attitudes to all things around us been built into us and we might be able to modify and change some of these but it still falls way too far? 

Besides it's a good story to tell about the plane that just fits onto the runway.

Elsewhere on the island you can escape to quiet settings on an edge of coast and look out to eternity, with nothing barring the way all the way to Antarctica.

Nothing Matters

So said Meursault in the novel, The Outsider, by Albert Camus. In the big scheme of 'all things' the petty rules we follow, the obligations and etiquettes, are all absurd.

Meursault kills an Arab on the beach in Algiers, but the novel shows that it is more his refusal to show remorse that causes the Judge to give him the death sentence. Evidence shows that he did not cry at his mother's funeral and the Judge and gallery are shocked at such inhumanity. He must be a monster.

For an Australian example see the media coverage of Lindy Chamberlain and the Dingo.

Advertising

Advertising says you are not good enough as you are, you are not even likeable: you girls need to be slimmer, guys get some muscles. You need to be elegant, sophisticated, look like this, wear this brand. Watch these shows to be in, drive a car like this, drink Coke, Pepsi, Coke, Pepsi. Believe in what we say.

Up Yours

The two fingers 'up yours' sign has a certain power and is a show of rebellion, though it depends totally on who or what you are holding up your fingers to. 

It also has an interesting history. In the famous Battle of Agincourt of 1415 the English troops got the upper hand as they had archers. They were able to shoot accurately from a distance without putting their lives at risk. 

The French were naturally annoyed (more likely pissed off in French) so they held up their two fingers, the fingers that the English used to draw back the bow, suggesting without any subtlety that they would amputate these two fingers if they captured them. 

The Book of Safety (From a Guide to Living to 100) 

1. Obey all rules; remember they are for your own good.

2. Order your life carefully, and any risks should be small and measured.

3. Eat sensibly, have a daily intake of fibre and do not take up cigarettes or anything potentially addictive.

4. Organise superannuation, life insurance and other insurances against flood, fire, earthquake, plague, low flying hordes of locusts and other malignant acts of God (or any lesser deities) at an early age.

5. Do not pierce your body, except for the regulation one hole in your ear lobe.

6. Book your children into good schools soon after conception.

7. Listen to your fear, it is a biological adaptation to keep you safe.

8. Do not mix with people who are likely to get into trouble.

9. Have orthodox views on religion, politics and racial relations.

10. Dress neatly, keep hair off your face, walk with a straight back and remember that people are always watching so present exactly the face that they want to see. 

Perception 

Humans perceive reality through five senses that give only a very limited and partial view of the world. We have an imperfect access to the knowledge of the world though we assume that we have direct access to the real world. For a start:

Our eyes respond to a very narrow band of wavelengths within the electro magnetic spectrum. Our ears respond to limited range of vibratory frequencies. The brain does not have direct access. It acquires information from pulses of bio-electrical activity pumped along nerve fibres. Then it must interpret it - dealing only with symbols and these are encoded in language. 

Language itself shapes the way we can perceive the world.

Philosophers 

Ask the person in the street the names of two famous philosophers and most will say Plato and Socrates. Being the first in their field they were able to say things that others hadn't had the chance to yet. Socrates never wrote anything but hung out on the streets of Athens having philosophical conversations with anyone who would stop. If he was around today he would probably be one of those guys who sit on one cup of coffee all day in an outdoor cafe. More likely Fremantle than Claremont.

He got a name for being impossible to beat in an argument and his fame spread and other well known philosophers hit the streets hoping to beat him in a verbal joust. 

Plato was his pupil and became more famous than his master and did write his ideas down. He is known for his metaphor of the self in 'Plato's Cave'. This tells us to imagine living in a cave all your life. Inside is a fire and being used to the darkness of an isolated world you come to believe that the shadows thrown by the fire are real. This is what life is to those who have not discovered who they are. 

To fully uncover the self you must leave the safety of the cave and break an opening out of the cave. And there it is: a wide world unimagined before with the light of the sun and colours. 

Nice metaphor but Plato was a bit of a fascist otherwise. He certainly didn't believe in equality and was the original misogynist.

The nineteenth century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche hated Socrates. He believed he stood for all the insipidness possible in humanity as he allowed the State to send him to his death without ever complaining. Socrates had accepted the judgement of the Court, though he was innocent, as it was in the interests of the community, he believed, for him to obey the rules. Nietzsche wanted people to make their own rules. He also didn't like Christianity or Christ as it preached that people should turn the other cheek.

Being Cool

This is a desirable state as it usually means you are feeling good about yourself and you think others would like to be just like you. 

It also involves quite a bit of detachment. You separate yourself from the ordinary lot of people and feel superior. Those who are uncool are excluded and sometimes ridiculed in subtle or unsubtle ways. It can also be a detachment from your own self as you disconnect from certain emotions and feelings as this would involve expressing concern over things that are decidedly uncool.

It's all attitude, but it also image and can manifest itself on an exterior level by acting in certain ways, wearing particular clothes, having a certain style of hair, etc. It might be more a teenage phenomena but the very worse examples are the megarich older set.

It doesn't have to be a bad thing and like anything will vary depending on the particular attitude that is desired. Bob Marley was cool in a cool way, Naomi Campbell is cool in a nasty way, the guy out of Friends (the one who wants the good looking girl) is definately uncool.

Coke

If an archaeological team from another star system came down to a ruined Earth in a thousand years time they might come to the conclusion that the two great religions of the planet were Coke and Pepsi.

In every corner of the Earth they would find huge icons where the people worshipped the flashy white and red gods that appeared on monstrous billboards, proclaiming the Word: 'It's the Real Thing'. The visitors would see them as vital, energetic deities who were omnipresent, dynamically revealing metaphysical truths and not knowing they were only the smaller gods of capitalism who had in their way converted unlikely populaces into accepting a whole way of life.

Software 

In a recent book 'Spiritual Machines' Ray Kurzweil discusses how within thirty years Science will be able to scan and download the brain and nervous system. Our neurons have a relatively short lifespan so they will be replaced with more reliable electronic circuitry.

Life is not a lot of laughs being fixed on a desktop so there will be bodies (where these are coming from I don't know but there's talk of actually being able to 'create' body parts soon) that these minds will inhabit. We will be immortal, with spare copies on standby for emergencies. 

We will have become software. 

Wittgenstein

'The limits of my language mean the limits of my world' wrote Ludwig Wittgenstein on one of his more lucid days. He might have continued, saying language is like a pair of glasses. The world can be quite different through different lenses. Language can also be blinkers, a strait-jacket.

Location for Afternoon Tea 2: Hotel, Lake Windemere

The Lakes Districts in north-east England is a popular tourist destination with hundreds of thousands making their way by train or road to enjoy the beautiful countryside. Most will venture out on boats, feeling at one with Nature (and a few thousand other people) and glad to be away from the cities.

Most will visit Dove Cottage, the nineteenth century home of William Wordsworth, even if they have written read a poem in their lives.

This is the country where Willy, his sister Dorothy and poet-friend Samuel Coleridge took long, long walks and then returned home to gather their thoughts in tranquillity. This was apparently how poems were meant to be written in their Romantic manifesto, and though William may have kept his side of the bargain, Coleridge often found his best work came after a night of opium.

At a hotel in the Brockdale National Park you can sit out on the terrace and enjoy the mist gather over the lake in the latter part of the afternoon, think about the Romantic Poets and maybe knock out a sonnet or two.

This is all very genteel and you cannot go away without being served tea, (no teabags here but glittering silver teapots, silver plates and Earl Grey), with enormous scones that look as if they had been laid by some giant miscreant bird rather than baked by dear old Mrs Fagerty.

Disney and Nature

Many people do not engage first-hand with Nature. They might drive into the country, even stop and pick flowers in the Spring, but most return to holiday villas with electricity and running water, or more likely microwaves and video recorders. Those who venture into wilder places are usually on packaged tourist deals. 

Their knowledge and understanding of Nature has come from the television and movies. And we can thank Disney for some of this.

Disney films have totally humanised wild animals, made them creatures that just happen to have feelings and emotions that fit a Western ethical system of beliefs. It was too hard to have real wild animals in films so they had to train creatures and place them in settings that appeared like their real homes. 

So in one film bears are placed in a cave - Mama Bear who resembles a stay-at-home wife, Papa bear who goes out hunting and Baby bear who is the offspring of this loving couple. In the wild Papa bear doesn't share a home, is not always so nice to Mama and is notorious for eating little baby bears. But Disney can have none of this so he models them on an idealised American family of the 1950's (which doesn't really exist, see Pleasantville) and act out everyday family dramas. 

In White Wilderness (1958) a film crew gathered together a load of lemmings (brought from Manitoba to Alberta), took them to the edge of a cliff and herded them off. All on film of course and from this one piece of constructed 'real life' footage was born the myth, which many of us believe, that lemmings are suicidal little rodents who have the propensity to find themselves a cliff and are propelled by a great instinctual urge to see what the water is like. The animal has also entered the lexicon of our language as a symbol of thoughtless, mass-destruction.

In John Sayles' 'Limbo', a very anti-Disney type of film, he has rich entrepreneurs talk about the wilds of Alaska as though it was a theme park for tourists to see bears on the edge of land as they sail past, watch whales from the comforts of their 'Love Boat' or buy native crafts from the shops. All so these people can go home with their snapshots and tell their friends about their time in the wilderness.

Self

When it comes down to it, when we really want to ask philosophical questions about who we are and what is it all about, we have ask how do we perceive ourselves. What is a human? What is a self? What are all the different assumptions underlying the models we see ourselves through.

If you have been brought up in a Western liberal democracy you would have naturalised the notion that we are all individual and that to be an individual is valued in our society. In turn it carries a bit of responsibility. We are in essence the controllers of our own destinies. We have a self and/or a soul that we are born with. 

This brings up the old nature/nurture debate. Are we born with the things that make us who we are or do we acquire them through acculturation. That is, becoming the person our society and culture makes us.

Here are a few of the beliefs of philosophers and religions: 

We are born with an innate self that has the capacity to improve by questioning life. We will never know very much about anything.

Socrates 

Plato believed that people are born with vastly different abilities. Knowledge is obtained by the senses and reason and only the few gifted individuals will ever achieve a state of understanding. He was a moral absolutist who believed that morality was fixed: there was right and wrong, good and bad.

Morality was fixed and these beliefs and social conduct needed to be passed down through the ages for others to live by. This implied that the individual had little choice and just had to accept these beliefs and through this their lives would be fulfilled.

Confucius 

Individuals have different worth. There is a hierarchical set of beliefs that places some higher than others and the individual had no choice other than to accept this. They must do their duty according to their nature and their place in society. The self is innate with some born with higher qualities.

Hinduism

The self is innate and is capable of transformation over successive life times. The individual needs to live a 'good' life and one's actions in life and accumulation of merit will determine their next lives. People need to help others in material and spiritual matters. Motive is what matters, so the idea that the individual's perception of what is 'good' according to the Buddhists' beliefs is assumed as essential.

Buddhism

The self is innate and individuals should strive towards perfection through worship and imitation of God. Certain moral laws to obey and love is the greatest virtue. You should love enemies as well as yourself.

Christianity

Clear line between right and wrong as decreed by God to Muhammed. These beliefs are fixed and no circumstances can alter this. Self is innate and at the command of God.

Islam

Karl Marx and all those Marxist who have followed believed that there is no God and morality has been culturally constructed to suit the interests of the ruling class. Nevertheless he believed in some driving historical force that moved inevitably to an end; that being a future perfect society where all were equal and an 'objective' morality was in place. The self was part of the greater society which was more important.

Creationism

In the latest Gallop Poll in America it revealed that 44% of Americans believed in strict Biblical creationism, while only 10% believed in the fully evolutionary view. A 1996 poll reported 96% of Americans believed in God. 

In the same poll they found the reasons why they believed in God were: 1. The apparently good design of the universe (29%); there seemed such order in the universe that it had to mean there was some great mastermind. 2. Personal experience of God in everyday life. (21%).3. Belief in God was comforting or consoling (10%).

This is the country that had slavery and didn't give Blacks rights till the 1960's, barged their way into Vietnam because they didn't like dirty Commies and had 60,000 of their own men killed for nothing; and the only country to drop an atomic bomb, sorry two, on another nation. There has also been more recent escapades: the one million Iraqis who have died, mainly children, in the last nine years because of the economic sanctions imposed by the United Nations, under the direction of the Americans. 

Imagine what the godless nations are capable of! 

Beauty

Most have heard that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some may even partly believe it. Yes, that girl with the eyes too close, nose not quite straight, protruding jawline and a body that will never be on a catwalk, can become quite appealing once you get to know her. The male equivalent is just as valid, though it is not quite as important in Western societies for a male to be beautiful. In fact we would rarely use the term. To be handsome, rugged, have a face with character are more suited descriptions and these allow for a few irregularities and blemishes.

In his documentary, Millenium, David Maybury-Lewis, explores the idea of beauty in the Wodaabe tribe of central Africa. The guys are the ones who drag out the make-up, get dressed up, and head off to the village sandground where all the women are waiting to select the man of their dreams. Out on the sand they dance, lifting their heels off the ground, jerking up and down, flashing the whites of their eyes and their immaculate teeth.

When they are finished the girls send a messenger to say which guy they would like to meet later.

This certainly subverts a few Western notions of beauty and courtship. It's the guys who have to flaunt their stuff and they are judged beautiful according to the way they dance, and the whiteness of their eyes and teeth. The girls sit on the ground looking a little dowdy, but with the power to make selections. 

This sounds all very liberated, and in a whirlwind courtship that takes place surreptitiously in a tent while the girl's 'given' husband searches for her, the guy, Djajeego, exclaims his lasting love and they escape on a camel into the sunset. Before they get home though they bed down by a river and he asks how he can show his love. No roses or chocolates, the promise of diamonds, instead he suggests slaughtering a bull as if a dead bovine is the most romantic gesture one can make. It is hard to see this catching on in the West: first date to the movies, the second to the abattoirs. Of course this might be all part of a dinner-date.

However, crunch-time comes in the morning when he takes her home and there are already two annoyed wives waiting, young children on their hips. 

Men are allowed more than one wife in this society if they can afford it, in fact it is a sign of wealth and success. And with a bit of smooth talking he gets her to stay. 

It doesn't need too much imagination to see that in two years time she will be one of the disgruntled wives waiting for wonder-boy to come home on his camel with yet another wife. 

As for beauty the men seemed to have won out again.

Suicide 

Boys/men between the ages of 15 and 25 kill themselves four times as much as females. 

In The Myth of Sisyphus Albert Camus (Nobel Prize winner who died in a car crash) says that the one and only philosophical question is whether we suicide or not. Is life worth living or not? 

Sisyphus is a figure in Greek myth who defies the Gods and for his crime he is sentenced to eternity pushing a large boulder up a hillside, only to find on reaching the summit that it rolls down the other side and he must walk down dejectedly (at least for the first few times) to recover it, feeling its sharp edges, his hands callousing over, and roll it back again. Forever. 

This might be seen as a metaphor for life. The purposeless journey up and down, the burden of the stone which is life and all its pain.

One may wonder though if Sisyphus ever came to feel close to his stone. Did he eventually come to caress it as he pushed upwards? Did the familiarity of his labour bring contentment? 

Some may say this is what we do in our routine lives; lives that have been ordained since birth by the society we have been born into. The trick is to enjoy it.

Stones

Eventually gravity takes us all, it is those little stones we gather, the smooth pebbles that we rub peacefully, not the sharp flints that we soon discard, that weigh us down.

Virginia Woolf killed herself by walking into the river, wearing her old green cardigan, her pockets full with stones.

Another famous cardigan wearer was Kurt Cobain who killed himself. There is no reason, however, for us to see the cardigan as an indicator of discontent or social alienation. 

Sylvia Plath who filled in the spaces between the door and the floor with towels, then gassed herself by sticking her head in the oven while her children slept upstairs, wrote a wonderful poem called 'Stones'.

Love

A friend rang the other night and wanted some advice on love. Nothing personal or intimate - quite the opposite. She was having an argument with a guy in the Med Library over the nature of love. He believed in love and she knew it to be a cultural construct. What she wanted was some information to shoot him down in flames.

Love as we know it in Western Romance is an invention. In Medieval times love became idealised as a spiritual quality that old fashioned knights with chivalric manners pursued. In reality it was little more than revering women as objects of beauty rather than real flesh and blood people. The Church also got in on the act and made it 'forever' by institutionalising monogamy into clear terms that were in their best interests. The French Troubadores of the time also sang songs of true love and spread the attitude. Today advertising and Hollywood have taken it to unforeseen lengths. No Hollywood movie fails to have a love interest and somewhere along the way after conflicts and obstacles, boy and girl get together. And, of course, true love is forever. 

However there might be a crazy thing called love after all. It might be what really matters in the long run - strip away everything else you've got in life and if you have loved and been loved maybe it has been worth the trip. 

But what is it? Science have tried to explain it as a chemical imbalance, an attraction that apparently has a used by date of two years or so. Is it simply meeting someone who you are attracted to and get on with? Why the hysteria over love if this is all it is? Can we make any judgements about love on the statistics that a majority of people will marry people from their own social class, despite the odd movie that shows these boundaries transgressed? 

I understood what was meant by 'God is Love' awhile ago, which is quite amazing for someone who believes both are constructs (most days anyway), but I have forgotten. Just clean slipped out of my head, though I remember it being more of a feeling. If I remember I will write it in. Look for the title 'God is Love Yeh'

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